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The Murder of Alfalfa - Part II

Unfortunately, that kind of luck doesn't last forever.
Carl left the series in 1940, although the part followed him everywhere he went.
He'd knock on doors all day long, chasing down acting jobs, but the people doing the hiring would just say, "Hey, Alfie, sing off-key for us.
"It used to drive him nuts.
He always said it's hard for a former child actor to start working again.
He did star in a couple of movies, There's One Born Every Minute and The Great Mike.
He played Billy Wiggs in Mrs.
Wiggs Of The Cabbage Patch.
In the late '40s, he top-lined three low-budget Gas House Kids programmers, where he was reunited with his perpetual Our Gang nemesis, Tommy "Butch" Bond.
Tommy was one of his best friends.
He died of heart failure in Northridge in September of 2005 at the age of 79.
Other than those few high points, it was mostly downhill for Carl over the next decade.
He had bit parts in Leo McCarey's Going My Way, in Courage Of Lassie, A Letter To Three Wives, and the Tracy-Hepburn vehicle, Pat and Mike.
Most of the time, he didn't even get his name in the credits.
Frank Capra had written a couple of Our Gang scripts in the '20s.
He cast Carl in two classics.
First in It's A Wonderful Life in 1946, when Carl was 19.
He played Donna Reed's boring date at the school dance.
It's a good small role.
He and his buddy are the pair who crank open the swimming pool that Stewart and Reed fall into while jitterbugging.
In the ensuing chaos, Carl shrugs and joins his classmates in the big splash.
And then later he showed up in another Tracy-Hepburn movie, this one for Capra, State Of The Union, in 1948.
But by then the roles were getting smaller and less frequent.
Almost as if producers were embarrassed to cast him.
Then in the '50s, Our Gang was resurrected on television as The Little Rascals.
It was an enormous thumping success.
Alfalfa was rediscovered by a new batch of children, and the character became just as beloved and captivating as he was in the '30s.
But it was a mixed blessing for Carl Switzer.
It made him happy to feel recognized, but it didn't help him get work.
It seemed to hurt, in fact.
And while the syndicators of the series were making a fortune--millions upon millions--Alfalfa and the rest of the Our Gang stars didn't get a penny.
There was no such thing as residuals in those days.
Carl felt bitter about it, even though he had fond memories of his seasons in Our Gang.
He and Tommy Bond had really hit it off.
In the stories Butch and Alfalfa were always at each other's throats.
But there was no competition between them in real life.
They had a lot of laughs together.
They thought of themselves as backlot kingpins.
Carl as a kid was always causing trouble on the set.
He hated school, and he'd deliberately ruin a take with his hi- jinks.
Once a cameraman got mad at him and barked at him in annoyance.
Alfalfa repaid him when everyone was out to lunch by jamming a mammoth wad of gum inside the camera, shutting down production for the rest of the day.
Another time, when an impatient director was needling him, Carl climbed up on the catwalks and took a leak on the hot lights, clearing out the studio because of the rancid smell.
Life was never dull around Alfalfa.
Tommy Bond said, "He was a riot.
Everybody loved him.
"You never knew what kind of a stunt he'd pull next.
He was mischievous, and you couldn't control him.
Darla Hood, one of his co-stars, said he was exciting to be around, but sometimes she was afraid of him.
Another of his kid co-stars was Robert Blake--yeah, that Robert Blake, known at the time by his real name, Mickey Gubitosi.
He was impressed with Alfalfa's substantial talents.
He has said Carl could play several different instruments and was endlessly inventive as an actor.
According to Blake, when Carl wanted to, he could get it precisely right on the first take.
So Carl in his mid-20s felt depressed.
Back at the Roach studios, he was the center of attention.
And now he felt like he was just another washed-up has-been, lurking around the fringes of the business.
He did the best he could, on his own.
He'd supplement his income by taking odd jobs like bartending.
Or as a professional hunting guide in the High Sierra.
Actually, he was pretty good at that.
He had his own dogs and equipment.
And he enjoyed it.
Among his regular clients he counted Roy Rogers, Henry Fonda and Jimmy Stewart.
And then there was William Wellman.
"Wild Bill" they called him.
A man's man and one of the most colorful directors in Hollywood.
His 1927 movie Wings won the first Oscar for Best Picture.
Carl was on a big-game hunting trip with him, but Wellman didn't recognize him.
He kept glancing at Carl-- couldn't quite place him, although he thought he looked familiar.
Finally, he said something about it, and Carl reluctantly told him he was Alfalfa.
Wellman laughed and said, "You're gonna be in my next picture.
"Carl's eyes bugged out, just like Alfalfa's.
The man was as good as his word.
Carl Switzer was cast as Hopper in William A.
Wellman's Island In The Sky in 1953...
and got his name in the credits at the beginning of the movie.
And then the next year, he did another one for Wild Bill.
He played Ensign Keim in The High And The Mighty.
It was a huge box- office smash.
Both were John Wayne movies, made by Wayne's production company, Batjac.
Later the same year, they offered Carl more work.
It was another Wellman picture, Track Of The Cat, starring Robert Mitchum, from a novel by Walter Van Tilburg Clark.
Carl was to play Joe Sam, a 100-year-old Piute Indian ranch hand.
It was a challenge, to put it mildly.
He was 26 at the time.
No one alive today can say why on earth they'd cast a skinny white kid in a part like that, but the company did hire a native American coach, 77-year-old Augie Gomez, a Mohawk and former extra and stand-in, to help him get the character right.
Carl did okay with it, certainly didn't embarrass himself.
It took three hours to get him into make-up every day.
And he was perfectly happy to sit there while they did it.
Carl felt like things were looking up.
But he was still the same prankster and trouble-maker.
One night on location he threw a live racoon into Mitchum's cabin.
Five weeks before production, Carl had eloped with Dian Collingwood, the daughter of a wealthy Kansas farmer.
John Wayne's brother, Bob Morrison, was best man at the wedding in Las Vegas.
But the couple weren't getting along well.
They broke up during the shoot.
Carl was getting hounded by the press.
His only comment was, "I guess bear hunting and marriage don't mix.
" After the movie wrapped, Dian told him she was expecting, and they were reconciled.
Carl agreed to get rid of his three hunting dogs.
But the marriage didn't last, and they soon divorced.
Carl soldiered on.
He got cast in a semi-recurring role on Roy Rogers' TV program.
He landed small, uncredited parts in a handful of movies, including Francis In The Navy and The Ten Commandments.
He was signed to do a comedy lead in a Huckleberry Finn TV series, but somehow it never came off.
Then in 1958, he won a juicy featured role in his final movie, The Defiant Ones, starring Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis.
His part, Angus, ran all the way through the story.
Just before it was released, Carl told a reporter, "I'll see how this one turns out.
If this doesn't do it for me, nothing will.

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